The noisiest news in the Anglican and Episcopal news and blogosphere is the recent installation by Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as Missionary Bishop of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion - CN-A) for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). Even more interesting than the event itself has been the exchange of letters and responses: a letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, asking the Archbishop of Nigeria not to take this step, a signal boundary violation; Archbishop Akinola’s response (saying, “You (collective Episcopalians) made me do it!”); the report of a letter from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, also asking Archbishop not to take this step; and Archbishop Akinola’s published response, saying, essentially, “But, I’m doing this for you (the collective Communion), as well as for souls in peril.” (One is tempted to cite Jonah 4:11; but perhaps that goes too far.)
You can check out the usual suspects on these issues, and I encourage you to do so. However, a question discussed but not answered is whether this is arrogance or desperation. Those categories, of course, are not mutually exclusive; but there is still plenty of room to speculate why Archbishop Akinola would so clearly move forward in a way that is so precipitate, and so contrary to the Windsor Process.
Indeed, this is arguably counter to the recent Communiqué from the Primates Meeting in Tanzania. Regarding CANA (as well as the Anglican Mission in America, or AMiA), the communiqué says
“Although there are particular difficulties associated with AMiA and CANA, the Pastoral Council should negotiate with them and the Primates currently ministering to them to find a place for them within these provisions. We believe that with goodwill this may be possible.”
The context for this statement is the description of and the goals of the plans for the Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar. The clear context is that the proposed program includes reconciliation of Americans in CANA and AMiA with the Episcopal Church as the sole province of the Anglican Communion in the United States. Now, the House of Bishops did say the plan as stated in the Communiqué was not appropriate for the Episcopal Church. However, they also stated clearly that this statement was not their formal or final response to the communiqué. In any event, the intent of the Communiqué, consistent with the Windsor Report and the Windsor Process, was to seek reconciliation, and, as the Windsor Report describes it, the “highest level of communion possible.”
Archbishop Akinola has apparently determined that there is no meaningful chance for reconciliation, and no meaningful point to a “Windsor Process.” He has said clearly “the highest level of communion possible” is with CANA through CN-A, and that communion with the Episcopal Church isn’t much worth pursuing. Why would he make that decision? (And I don’t think either that this is due to “instructions” from American supporters per se, nor from personal pique.)
Perhaps it is because the structures of the Windsor Process aren’t moving his way at all, much less fast enough. I was struck today by the report released yesterday summarizing the work to this point of the Panel of Reference. It’s certainly an interesting report. Four of the five submissions referred by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Panel reflect issues in North America (three in the Episcopal Church and one in the Anglican Church of Canada). One of those, regarding the dissenting churches in the Diocese of Connecticut, was sent back to the Archbishop because civil litigation was underway, and the Panel procedures did not allow for consideration unless and until civil issues were resolved. To date that case has not been resubmitted.
Of the other three, not one has accomplished any change favorable to the dissenting Anglicans making the submission. The closest was the report regarding the submission from the Diocese of Fort Worth. The concern was the freedom of that diocese to continue its use of the Dallas Plan (allowing ordinations of women from Fort Worth, and the call of a woman priest to a congregation in Fort Worth, to take place under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Dallas) rather than ordaining or receiving an ordained woman within Fort Worth’s jurisdiction. The Report of the Panel accepted that the Dallas Plan was workable, and encouraged the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop to discuss the requirements of Episcopal Canons; but it did not require any change of those canons, nor did it establish any new mechanism through which Fort Worth might maintain communion with Canterbury independent of the Episcopal Church.
The other two cases were less ambiguous, and certainly less favorable to conservative dissenters. Congregations calling themselves the "Anglican Church in New Westminster" (in the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada) were instructed that the Diocese continued in communion with Canterbury through the Anglican Church of Canada, and that thus their communion with Canterbury continued through the Diocese, dissent or no. Congregations in Florida were essentially told that the program of Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight as approved by the Episcopal House of Bishops was sufficient for their needs, and encouraged foreign bishops to withdraw their support for those congregations. (And it wasn’t for love of the Americans. One of the interviewers was Bishop Maurice Sinclair, former Primate of the Southern Cone, and a thoroughgoing conservative on current issues.)
This has been going on in the background, but it is, I think, very important. In each of these issues the Panel affirmed the ecclesial status quo when it might have recommended new means for recognition in the Anglican Communion. Because, of course, that was the request in each case: support for some means for communion with Canterbury independent of the recognized structures of the Communion, and specifically the diocesan and/or national structures of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Had the panel suggested such independent structures, while it would not have provided jurisdictional authority, it would certainly have offered moral and philosophical validity, and some veneer of due process. It would have implied the sanction of the Windsor Process, and of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for such an alternate structure. That would certainly have been embarrassing to the official provincial structures, and empowering for the dissenting voices.
But the Panel of Reference didn’t do that. And perhaps that is what has pushed Archbishop Akinola to act now, in the face of a request from Canterbury (he would never have respected any request from any Episcopal Presiding Bishop) and of the efforts under the Windsor Process, including the Tanzania Communiqué, toward continuing dialogue and reconciliation. The “official structures” of the Windsor Process have not displaced the Episcopal Church or the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada. Indeed, they have affirmed their provincial and canonical integrity (if not specific actions). The Archbishop of Canterbury has continued his efforts to “keep everyone at the table.” rather than sending the Episcopal Church away. That includes his clarity that inviting Presiding Bishop and Primate Jefferts Schori to Tanzania was the norm and not the exception, and his patience in not issuing invitations to Lambeth while waiting for the official response of (as well as his meeting with) the Episcopal House of Bishops. For all the rhetoric, the official structures have not offered dissenters, nor Archbishop Akinola, the support or validation desired. So, why wait? Why not establish a new fact on the ground, a new mission of an existing province, to be offered in good time as a gift to the Communion (and as a substitute for the Episcopal Church).
Now, my thoughts are as speculative as anyone else’s. At the same time, I think this report of the Panel of Reference, documenting its respect for existing structures of the Communion and its unwillingness to undermine them, is important. Those who would disenfranchise the Episcopal Church, and perhaps the Anglican Church of Canada, within the Anglican Communion have been disappointed in ways far more significant than simply the “lack of respect” of the Episcopal Bishops. The Panel of Reference has not provided the precedent or validation for alternate structures of communion that had been hoped. Might as well, then, just get on with what had been planned all along.